On 14 June 2014, Jack Cottle deliberately drove a white VW Polo – not his vehicle – onto the race track at the Brands Hatch circuit during a four-hour event. The incident was captured – helpfully – by a passenger (see the YouTube video). The race had to be stopped, resulting in 30 minutes of the event being lost, at a cost of £4,200 to the organisers.
Cottle claimed he had been “dared” to do it.
He was arrested and prosecuted, pleading guilty to public nuisance on 10 October at Maidstone Crown Court, and the matter was put back for sentencing. The judge said:
“Motor racing is an inherently dangerous sport and quite plainly it was a matter that put persons at risk for their lives.
“You must understand that the court will be considering a custodial sentence.”
Public nuisance is a common law offence with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Examples of what constitutes a public nuisance can vary wildly, however probably the most notable recent example is that of Trenton Oldfield disrupting the Oxbridge Boat Race. He received a custodial sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment.
“A person is guilty of a public nuisance (also known as common nuisance), who (a) does an act not warranted by law, or (b) omits to discharge a legal duty, if the effect of the act or omission is to endanger the life, health, property or comfort of the public, or to obstruct the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to all Her Majesty’s subjects….This definition was approved in R. v. Rimmington; R. v. Goldstein  1 A.C. 459, in which the House of Lords held that the definition was clear, precise, adequate…”
In the interim between the event and his sentence earlier this week, Cottle boasted online about the incident. He claimed it was something he had always wanted to do, that it was “quite funny” and that he would like to do it again.
On 17 November 2014, Cottle was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment. Not so funny now eh?
In mitigation, it was said that Cottle “”lacks maturity and is easily led” and that he was sorry for his actions.
The judge commented:
“With your girlfriend in the front passenger seat and your other friend in the back filming, you drove your girlfriend’s car on to the track.
“You drove a full circuit and I have seen the films with sound commentary showing your girlfriend was hysterical and screaming and begging you to stop, and also protesting it was her car.”
“It’s quite clear your actions were premeditated. It was deliberate, it was inexcusable.
“Your deliberate behaviour endangered not only your own life it but those of your passengers, the competitors, the emergency services, the marshals, stewards and anyone else who was nearby.
“The sentence must reflect the need to deter others who might be tempted to act as you did.”
The judge declined to impose a disqualification from driving.
Cases of public nuisance are typically difficult to sentence; what is required is to identify very specifically the harm caused by the individual’s actions. In this case, the harm is obvious. The danger to himself, his passengers, the drivers of the vehicles in the race, the marshals and emergency services is manifest. Additionally, the disruption caused to the race and the financial loss to the organiser is not to be overlooked. The selfishness and stupidity of Cottle’s actions therefore result in a high level of culpability. Additionally, Cottle bragging about the offence is likely to have been considered to have been an aggravating factor.
As to whether such an offence warrants a custodial sentence, this case is likely to divide opinion. Whilst I see force in the argument that there is a need for deterrence (the YouTube video having been watched over 2.3m times) and to avoid “copycat” incidents is important. However, one wonders whether Mr Cottle would have learned his less with a suspended sentence with some punitive requirements (curfew, unpaid work etc.) and the media spotlight highlighting just how much of an idiot he really is. Is it necessary to send him to prison? Probably not. Was it inevitable? Almost certainly.